TAMPA — Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is one of those works — maybe the work — that defines music for many people. It's the greatest symphony ever written (not really). It's the music of countless filmed images, from car commercials to the brainwashing of a violent thug in A Clockwork Orange. The setting of Schiller's Ode to Joy is a hymn to humanity, God and love.
So, not surprisingly, there was close to a full house for Friday's performance of Beethoven's titanic work by the Florida Orchestra, the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, the USF Chamber Singers and a vocal quartet, conducted by Stefan Sanderling at Morsani Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
Each of the four movements in the 70-minute symphony is like a monument in itself. I always love the open fifths and indefinite tonality in the strings and horn at the beginning. A highlight Friday was the second movement, with its strange, halting passages, coiled, rhythmic intensity and marvelous oboe playing by principal Katherine Young. The slow, spiritual third movement gave the impression of being suspended in time and space.
Baritone Richard Zeller got the Ode to Joy off to a great start with his stirring "O Freunde," soon to be joined by the other soloists — soprano Jonita Lattimore, mezzo-soprano Frances Pappas and tenor Steven Tharp — to sing in the upper reaches of their ranges.
Sanderling began the concert with Schoenberg's 10-minute choral work, Friede auf Erden (Peace on Earth). He segued quickly from that into the Ninth. This was meant to suggest the linkage between Beethoven and Schoenberg, master of 20th century atonality. But because the early Schoenberg work is so conventionally beautiful, Beethoven seemed like the radical, difficult composer, with moments such as the harshly dissonant chord that opens the symphony's finale.
At the end of the evening, a well-deserved solo bow was taken by James Bass, who prepared the chorus.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.